Posts in colonial history

roanoke colonies

The Cost Of Colonial Success In Williamsburg

July 17th, 2017 Posted by colonial history, colonial traditions, history, traditions, williamsburg No Comment yet

The Cost Of A Successful Colony Like Williamsburg

Everything is dainty bright and nice. Beautiful outfits, gorgeous wooden homes. Everything is in place to show A microcosm of a perfect day in Colonial American life. Granted it’s accurate with the exception of the fact that history is not always so nice, forgiving, or even fair.

Colonial Williamsburg is a shining example of successful colonization by the English colonies in the New World. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t the first try either. It was a success in a string of very difficult efforts that ended up in disappointing, even deadly endings.

the_price_of_colonizationThe Not So Successful Colonization..The Roanoke Colony

To really understand the struggle you have to go back to the Roanoke colony in the 16th century. This was an earlier colonization effort in the New World,  in what is now modern day North Carolina. August marks the anniversary of the disappearance of this colony from the face of the Earth. Even today we have no idea what happened to them. The settlers were sent there to set up camp and found themselves in the company of indigenous peoples who were much more experienced with the land. And to the best of our knowledge probably did not see foreign settlers as a positive event when they claimed existing territory for themselves.

Even worse, it is very likely that human nature took over. Human nature in any culture, whether native American or European, can very aggressive.  How do we know that the native Americans didn’t view the colony as an opportunity for gain, human capital, and blood sport.

No Dainty Costumes Here…

This is not a pleasant thought about colonization. Even in the modern day lost colony rendition of what happened, there is no deep explanation or speculation given as to what happened to them. And this omission is not because others did not think about what I am saying here. It is very likely that the disappearance was marred by tragedy, brutality, and cruelty.

Based on other experiences with colonization in the 16th century and 17th century it is very likely that one or a combination of regular events stepped in to change the destination of the colony on Roanoke Island.

Disease

The people from Europe coming to a new climate very likely encountered germs and disease. These could have had a ravishing affect on people as sickness can spread really fast. It is not unlikely that some or all  got infected and died. Disease is a factor that can not be overlooked.

roanoke coloniesConquest

If you look at 5000 years of human history it is marked with 0ne group of people conquering another….everywhere. The need for power, domination and resources has influenced one group to attack another for centuries. In fact it hasn’t stopped. So it’s really possible that local groups who did not see the Roanoke Colony as visitors but invaders were targets of the opportunity to conquer.

Resources

Even in a land as big as ours it is possible the resources ran out. The Colonies limited understanding of the new world and it’s land could very well mean that they ran out of ways to get food and water. This usually leads to a migration, which is a common practice when resources diminish.

Attrition

This refers to the fact that in a hostile environment or a new environment, like the  New World,people just fall away by attrition. Maybe a few of the settlers got a disease and died. Maybe a few drank unsafe water and died. Maybe a few of the Colonists went hunting or exploring and did not come back. Some may have had violent conflicts with natives. The simple fact is they could’ve just whittled down to such a small number, that they were just a handful of people foraging for survival. And yes, in that scenario it is possible a handful of them could have joined the native Americans.

Fantasy theory

This might seem cruel, but when I was a little kid seeing the reenactment of the Roanoke Lost Colony, it did not  leave me with an easy feeling. Even though I just witnessed settlers marching off peacefully with the Native Americans, I was not at ease that this was a definite, or even likely possibility. What I felt was an uneasy feeling that maybe that’s not what really happened. I was very young and my parents were not going to allow me to see anything but the Peanuts version of history. I mean can you imagine a little kid watching a bunch of people dying painfully of disease are getting slaughtered by natives or worse. It would definitely be an R-rated experience. Regardless of the very classy way of presenting it, I have never been back. I don’t want to say or think about what really happened to the people, because I intuitively feel like I know what happened to them.

Marketing Not History

This is where history gets funny. Mankind starts writing history to fix what he wants us to understand and believe, not what actually happened. I called this fantasy theory and it’s something that we do not do have on our tours because that is not what history is. Making things the way you want them to be, or to pacify feelings of guilt, disgust, or longing, is historical marketing. History is truth. History is messy. History is uncooperative.

The fantasy theory that we all want to believe is that the natives married some of the settlers, and they went off to live with them by choice. From there they must have lived happily ever after.

A Galaxy Far Far Away

I am going to put it in perspective with a hypothetical. Let’s say we colonize a planet that we’ve discovered has life or consistent life. Say you left and came back a year or two later and they’re all gone. Would you assume they just wanted off happily ever after with the local people?

Could you consider the possibility that what they thought life was going to be like on this planet was not the way it actually was  And there were some new challenges they were not ready for?

Flip it

Now let’s put a different perspective on it. Let’s just say in America, in your small coastal town, a group of people just show up. They  came off a boat and you did not invite them. Then they set up camp. First they don’t look or talk like the locals. So you send an envoy to them to try and see who they are. As a prudent person you know that you have to at least protect yourself so you make preparations of defense. You and your local group and city meet to talk about who these people are. You notice that they’re using your water resources. They need part of your food. And they’re wandering your lands. Even people who are part of your community aren’t allowed to wander other people’s land without permission. So why would you tolerate this from a group that you see as trespassing.

Do you view these people as friends? Do you see them as squatters, invaders, or do you just accept you must share your land and resources with strangers?  Maybe a better question is why would you even entertain the possibility that they have any claim to your land at all?

If you continue this scenario you’ll quickly get to the conclusion that unless these people submit to you and follow your rules they don’t belong in your community. Of course, what happens when they claim your community for themselves and do not want to leave. Maybe you let them stay. Maybe you tolerate them. Maybe you remove them, albeit violently.

Sacrifice

The point I am making is you do not see the harsh sacrifice that led to a successful colony like Colonial Williamsburg It is  more than just a beautiful microcosm of successful colonial life and colonization. It is the byproduct of sacrifice by many people to get to this point. Human arrogance, naïveté,  and just bad judgment cost lives and energy to reach this point. In fact other Colonization efforts would fail en route this success.

Real history

Real history encompasses the good and the bad. It encompasses the daily struggle, the risk, and mistakes of mankind to get to a positive outcome. When you look at the Roanoke colony you see that it wasn’t always a Peanuts Christmas but a struggle that we should be grateful they undertook.

Come learn history the real way. Enjoy your real tour of Williamsburg. This is not a PR tour or a marketing propagandized version of what they what someone wants us to say. This is truth..this is real history.

 

Save

valentine's day williamsburg virginia

Valentine’s Day In Colonial Williamsburg

February 6th, 2017 Posted by colonial history, colonial traditions, valentine's day, williamsburg No Comment yet

colonial williamsburg dating traditionsOf all the topics looking at daily life in Williamsburg, courtship and dating don’t jump out as particularly engaging topics. Yes, all cultures have courtship or dating rituals. This being the month of Valentines Day I felt it appropriate to at least try and promulgate the way this aspect of socialization and life was for the English settler and colonist in Williamsburg, Virginia.

But from the outset I had trepidation about doing it. Not because I am afraid I will discover stories that are too torrid for The Williamsburg Walking Tour blog, but fear that the subject may be too stoic and boring. In fact, when I look at the fashions of the 18th century, I am not exactly seeing the club scene.

Corsets, firm religious values, head to toe clothing, manual labor, and the rigors of modern life do not immediately lead me to believe that eros love was really on the mind of the colonist in York County or Williamsburg. But this is not totally true. As always things are not historically the way we think they should be, but follow a different somewhat less predictable route.

Survival First: Love & Life in the Jamestown Settlement

“Love” in the colonies does start out that way. In fact some of the sources I found portrayed life in the Jamestown Settlement to be focused on word “survival”. Not a lot of courting when life is a daily struggle to eat and survive. Thus, marriage was as much about keeping the population going as satisfying the need to be together. But as time went on this started to change.

Valentine’s Day In The Colonies: Fact or Fiction

The historical record of Jamestown did not surprise me, but what did was the role of Valentine’s Day in the 18th Century. I was almost sure that Valentine’s Day was a commercialized rip off of the exploits of the valiant St. Valentine, who was killed because he married people when marriage was outlawed. I just assumed the holiday was puffed up in the 1920s,1940s, or 1950s into the card and candy creation we celebrate today. I was certain that stoic Williamsburg Settlers had no interest in a fluff holiday like Valentine’s Day. But again, this was not so…

The Colonists Did Do SOME of the things we do today as part of the Valentine’s holiday shindig. According to an article I saw on the History Channel website here are some unexpected facts about the Valentine’s traditions in America.

  1. Colonists did exchange handwritten notes expressing love and feelings
  2. Americans started exchanging them as early as 1700s
  3. Members of all social classes did this

What? Weren’t arranged marriages the way of the world in these times. There is no sending Valentines when you are betrothed to a partner you haven’t even seen until the day you walked down the aisle. But as I researched further I found a statistic which kind of summed up how arranged marriages did not affect every Colonist, or even a majority. In fact this statistic kind of shocks me. It stated:

“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.”

This has be a misprint, but it is not. Apparently love finds a way, even in an era of arranged marriages. In fact I would call this the age of musket weddings(instead of shotgun weddings) since I cannot see any Dad, in ANY era, not pressuring the beau to walk down aisle with his paramour when his grandchild is in utero.

And as I thought about it I am not as surprised as I was at first. I mean we are a rebellious unruly people. We rebelled against a King and the most powerful empire of the day over taxes and our right to be represented. If we would do that, rebelling against Dad and Mom about who you are going to date is probably not that big a deal.

And as I continued to research (I am not even going to touch Bundling bags), there is more and more evidence of a dating independence starting as the Colonies expanded in a new world with no caste and completely malleable social order. I guess this is just another case where we as Americans do things our way. And by our way we follow our passions, on the battlefield, in the state houses, and…the bedroom.

 


Bibliography

Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .

 

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).

(Cooper, 2013)

“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.” (Cooper, 2013)

Note: from article about out of wed lock marriage

History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .
(History.com, 2009)